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Posts Tagged ‘vision’

Big lessons from small business

In Business Class, uhm, Uncategorized on May 14, 2010 at 7:57 am

More than once or twice in recent days, I’ve found myself at lunch tables and on bar stools talking with fellow small business folks about the ups and downs of the economy. And again and again, I find myself recommending the same book: Bo Burlingham’s 2005 work, “Small Giants.”

In that book, Burlingham presents a group of companies that, as he put it, “choose to be great instead of big.” From a Michigan recording studio to a Silicon Valley HR firm, and from a New York restaurant group to a San Francisco brewery, the companies Burlingham examined had made conscious decisions not to grow.

Well, actually, they chose not to grow by the traditional definitions of growth — by expanding beyond basic operations, for example, or by going public, merging or being acquired. All of them, however, would no doubt say they grew in other ways. And, by their measures, all seem to count themselves as successful. And, in pursuing their own definitions of success, they offer lessons for any business — of any size.

Consider this overview of the factors Burlingham says contribute to small firms’ mojo and decide for yourself.

 Choice. Recognizing that you have options beyond the usual paths to success, and, as a result, going a different way.

 Resistance. Choosing to resist the “obvious” paths to growth.

 Roots. Having an intimate relationship with geographic location — your city, town, county or region.

 Community. Maintaining intimate relationships with customers and suppliers.

 Family. Building intimate workplaces, where employees are like family.

 Variety. Organizing your business in an imaginative way, without feeling bound by typical structures.

 Passion. Having a leader with passion for the organization and what it does.

In various formula and measures, these factors combine to create a bigger, perhaps-less-tangible piece that Burlingham describes as a firm’s “mojo.” In the Jim Collins vernacular, this is most easily compared to a firm’s “hedgehog” … others might describe it as an organization’s  “DNA.” Regardless of what you call it, though, it’s that special thing, that unique quality, that defining aspect of an organzition that makes it stand out.

The thing to understand is that your firm’s “mojo” might not be the product you make so well, or the service you provide better than anyone else — it might be the process by which you make that product, or the way you provide that service. The trick is to identify that mojo and build on it … often discovering you can expand that mojo in ways you never imagined, to grow in ways you never thought possible.

And why is this notion so important these days? Because in times of marketplace upheaval, pursuing growth for growth’s sake seldom works. Instead, focus on your mojo in order to develop your organization’s true strength. Then you’ll not only survive tough times, but, when times are better, you’ll grow … in the ways that you choose to define growth.

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Strategic impact — Employees who know your strategy perform better

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate on February 16, 2010 at 3:38 pm

If your organization is “typical,” how many of your employees understand your strategy? 80 percent? 65 percent? 50 percent?

How about “None of the above?” According to a Right Management Consultants survey, only about one-third of all employees in a typical organization understand their organization’s strategy.

Why does it matter? Because it has a direct impact on profitability. Employees who don’t understand the strategy disengage. Disengaged employees are more likely to leave an organization; their performance levels are low; investments in their training and development are wasted, and they’re drags on workplace morale.

Why don’t these people know the strategy? Poor communication. The worst part? Sometimes this information gap is intentional – 28 percent of the surveyed organizations only share strategy with leadership teams. In other cases, it’s a lack of effort or understanding – almost a quarter of respondents say they simply haven’t gotten around to communicating strategy to employees, and 15 percent say they don’t know how to communicate the strategies.

None of those are good excuses. Communicating strategy to employees is essential and easy. Here are a few basic guidelines: 

  •  Make it simple. Boil down your strategy to a few simple, numbered statements. Don’t bury the strategy in flowery mission statements or jargon-filled white papers. The added bonus here? Forced to crystallize its meaning, the leadership team will better understand and agree on the strategy.
  •  Be overt. Once you develop a concise statement of strategy, get it out to the people. Hold special meetings, or make it an agenda item at regular meetings. Send out special e-messages, post in on the Intranet. Distribute and post the strategy for all to see.
  • Repeat yourself. The most common lament among execs when asked why their people don’t the strategy? “They should … I told them in an email earlier this year.” Don’t communicate the strategy once and assume everybody got it or gets it. Repeat it. Find excuses to send it out again. Make it the focus of stories on your Intranet, in newsletters … everywhere.
  • Create a dialogue. Invite comment or criticisms from employees. Ask them questions and invite them to ask you questions.
  • Create alignment. As part of your employee review process (you do have an employee review process, right?), challenge employees to align their goals for the coming year with the organization’s goals. Help them see how they connect to the bigger picture.
  • Get managers on board. Managers are key information sources for employees. If the bosses don’t know or understand your strategy, they certainly can’t communicate it.
  • Report on progress. Let everyone know how you’re doing in striving for your goals and objectives, and be prepared to report on strengths and weaknesses in the strategy.
  • Hire for communications ability. Join a growing trend – about 60 percent of organizations report they are seeking executives who can communicate strategically and interpersonally.
  •  Re-visit and reconfigure. A strategy should be reconsidered regularly to make sure it still fits with the organization and marketplace realties. And once it is reconsidered, any changes should be communicated quickly and clearly.

Studies have shown that employees who understand the big picture that surrounds the “small picture” of their jobs are more productive and dedicated employees. Make it a point to successfully communicate your strategy to your entire workforce, from top to bottom, and everyone will benefit.

Talk amongst yourselves

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate on February 3, 2010 at 9:35 am

As businesses and organizations talk about the audiences they need to target in order to reach their goals and objectives, they often overlook the one audience that has the greatest impact on success: employees.

Typically, this isn’t because leadership doesn’t appreciate employees – even the worst leaders know that the workers are the people who actually make things happen. No, it’s usually because they assume employees have been given all the information they need, and that they’ve heard it and understood it.

In a way, such leaders might be right. If all you want an employee to do is his or her job, then all you have to do is make sure that employee knows how to do that job and what tools to use (in simplest terms, which nut to tighten and which wrench to use).

But the best leaders know that, while putting these kinds of blinders on employees might get specific jobs done, it won’t generate the kind of engagement required to get the best from people. To illustrate this, biz gurus often point to a study involving an airplane manufacturer. One group of employees was trained fully and put to work; another group of workers was similarly trained, but also taken to the engineering lab to see how the parts they made helped the company build jets capable of flying higher and faster than any other jets.

Guess which group saw productivity soar?

I’ve thought a lot about these sorts of things in recent weeks as we’ve worked with a client that’s stepping up internal comm. – recognizing its value, the firm has committed considerable time and energy to getting it right. And that process reminded me of a set of “Rules for Internal Communications” I developed a few years ago.

I won’t pretend I invented these rules – but I will note that these kinds of guidelines often are overlooked when companies get focused on survival or recovery (as most are now). Oddly, it seems that many organizations consider dedicated internal comm to be a “luxury” only affordable when things are good. The best organizations realize they are a key part of any success.

So, with all of that as prelude, I offer “John’s Rules for Internal Communications.”

  1. Tell employees everything you can when you can.
  2. Don’t lie. (This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many organizations justify lying to employees, or at least not telling the full truth.)
  3. Tell employees first – before anyone outside the company’s walls – and never let them learn anything about the organization through the media unless it is absolutely unavoidable (for public companies, for example, legal or SEC regs sometimes dictate timing, and any organization could encounter a rare exception based on business developments or relationships … however, even in those cases, employees must be informed as soon as is legal and feasible).
  4. Never put out vague or incomplete communications – you’ll raise more questions than you answer.
  5. Never leave employees to draw their own conclusions.
  6. Understand that any information void will fill quickly with rumor, speculation and gossip.
  7. Treat employees like adults – give them bad news as well as good news. Be clear, don’t sugarcoat, don’t try to sell them on a particular point of view.
  8. Always assume that a question raised by a number of employees is on the minds of many more – but don’t respond on a global scale to a localized problem – and always be prepared to answer calmly and directly the most cynical questions.
  9. Overcommunicate … but remember that burying employees in useless information will dull their senses to real information.
  10. Consider: Is there a chance I will regret what I am saying? Will I have to eat my words, or explain myself later?

Looking at this list in today’s context, I might add one more rule: Go with the flow in terms of communications vehicles. Take the time to learn how your employees like to get information, and then provide it that way. For example, don’t assume a newsletter and an email will get the job done if your people value face-to-face communications and more cutting-edge communications.

So, if you compare your practices to the list above, how many rules are you breaking? And which ones do you break most frequently? And, most important, what are you going to do about it?

Trusting enough to say and hear the truth

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate on January 26, 2010 at 12:41 pm

While it might simply seem like a fitting name for a blog (after all, blogs often are little more than shouts into the void), the title of my blog comes from a leadership idea I had a few years ago.

 The idea came to me after a chat with a co-worker. Outraged by some specific corporate action or inaction, my friend said, “Man, when I leave this place, they’re going to get an earful.” And it occurred to me what a waste it would be for him to wait until he’s headed out the door to share his thoughts.

 Obviously, there’s often good reason for such reticence. Usually, when an employee gets to that level of frustration, communication with his or her higher-ups has broken down. My friend wasn’t willing to unload because he had tried before and found that his thoughts weren’t welcomed or valued. Maybe he had ranted too often, or maybe he consistently offered up bad ideas. Or maybe his higher-ups were too focused on their own ideas to hear his, too insecure to listen to criticism, or too crazed to take a moment to think beyond the fires under their chairs.

 Regardless, the point is that any time an employee says, “I can’t wait to quit and tell these people what I think,” you’ve got a problem – with the employee, leadership, the organization, or all of the above. And that problem is trust. The employee doesn’t trust his supervisors or leaders to hear him without penalty, and the higher-ups don’t trust the employee to say something meaningful without an agenda.

 To counteract this, I’ve often thought leaders should encourage they people to write annual “That’s it, I’m outta here” or “Nobody asked me, but …” letters. In these letters, they would say all those things they swear they’d say if they were leaving, and they would say them without fear of retribution. They would trust the organization to receive suggestions and criticisms openly, and the organization would trust the employees to focus on constructive ideas and steer clear of petty rants or vindictive attacks.

 Of course, without such an environment of trust, this practice could be disastrous, and that environment isn’t something you can just one day conjure up. Trust like that requires individual and organizational maturity. And, let’s face it, that kind of maturity is too often in short supply.

 That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find. Quite the contrary: It means that, if you do find it, you’ll create that rare organization in which everyone has a voice and everyone uses that voice to the organization’s benefit. Make that kind of candor a goal, and you’ll not only have open and candid discussions, but you’ll also know you’ve got the kind of trust that undergirds great organizations.

 Would you have the guts to ask for an “I’m outta here” letter from your employees? Would they have the guts to write those letters? To sign them? If not, you’ve got some work to do.

Why does it matter? Because of one last point: When people talk about writing such letters, it’s because they care about the organization … they’re still passionate about what happens there. They’re engaged. But if they spend too long suppressing their thoughts, they slowly disengage. And then, when they do leave the organization – or as they languish for years after they should have left the organization – they’re no longer passionate enough to say what’s on their minds, even if they are asked.

 As a result, a lot of great ideas, insider insights and those thoughtful suggestions … they’re all lost. Forever. And so is any trust that might have come with them.

Create a crisis, forge a team

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate on January 19, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Have you noticed how a crisis can pull a team together?

Picture this: Your team has fallen apart. People are carping at each other, letting each other down and pointing fingers. They can’t get the simplest project completed on time. Then a crisis develops – maybe it’s a client meltdown, a serious illness on the team, or something as mundane as an empty soda machine – and suddenly everybody’s pulling together. They unite against a common foe and act honorably, selflessly and passionately.

I was reminded of this dynamic last weekend when I led a board retreat for an area nonprofit. Fortunately, this board hasn’t devolved into fighting and finger-pointing, but it does seem to have lost its way. The organization has stagnated, and nobody seems to know how to breathe new life into it. I was just about to address this topic when one of the board members said, “What we need is some sort of rallying cry.”

He had played right into my hands: The next topic on my agenda was an organizational strategy that uses a “crisis mentality” to rejuvenate a floundering team.

How? By establishing what author Patrick Lencioni (the guy behind business bestsellers such as “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” and “Death by Meeting”) calls a “thematic goal.” He defines this as “a single, overriding theme that remains the top priority of the entire leadership team for a given period of time.” Translation: An organizational rallying cry.

At a leadership conference a few years ago, Lencioni offered examples: For a tire manufacturer that had been through a tire recall, the thematic goal might be to “survive by re-establishing credibility.” A biotech firm might want to “avoid complacency.” He even offered one for his family: “Prepare for Baby No. 4.”

But simply creating the theme doesn’t get the job done. The thematic goal must adhere to certain guidelines and become a central part of operations.

Here’s how it can work:

Step 1: Establish the thematic goal. This must be a single goal, qualitative in nature but attached to metrics. In addition, it should have a time limit (six months, a year, two years) and it should be shared across departments.

Step 2: Establish defining objectives. These are secondary objectives that apply directly to the thematic goal. For the tire company, these could include fixing tire problems, settling lawsuits and improving distributor relations.

Step 3: Establish standard operating objectives. These are the key business components that need to be addressed regardless of the thematic objective – things like revenue and expenses, productivity, customer satisfaction and market share.

Step 4: Build leadership meetings around the goal and objectives.  Blow up your meetings and structure them around the defining and operating objectives. Ignore departmental agendas and invite everyone to participate in all discussions … a lot of new ideas come from people thinking outside their areas of expertise.

By rallying around the thematic goal, an organization can conjure up the positives of a crisis situation without the accompanying crisis. The result can be a group that is focused, collaborative and, most importantly, successful.

What thematic goal would get your organization to pull together?

 NOTE: For more on this topic, pick up Lencioni’s 2006 book Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors

Social Media — Lead, don’t follow

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate on January 18, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Recently, we discussed social media with a longtime client’s leadership team. The client, a nonprofit human services organization, has taken a leadership role in its sector with progressive thinking and groundbreaking practices. However, while the organization has begun to dabble in social media, it hasn’t plunged into it fully.

These days, it would be easy to think of such an organization as being behind the times, but anyone who sat in on the conversation would see that the lack of social media involvement isn’t a result of backwards thinking; instead, it’s a product of the same kind of thinking that put the organization ahead of its peers.

Following are a few examples of that thinking.

Lead, don’t follow. It might seem odd to suggest that an organization not engaged in social media is a leader, but sometimes leaders are the ones who simply refuse to follow the herd. A lot of nonprofits invested quickly and heavily in social media – and then didn’t know what to do with it. Our client chose to wait, watch and do it right. Sometimes, that takes more leadership than blazing a trail.

Tell me more. We opened our social media discussion with a Social Media 101. When we finished, we braced for, “That’s great, but it’s not for us.” Instead, the discussion quickly progressed from “What if?” to “When?” The execs had good questions, not about the basics of social media, but about implementation and potential impact.

Perspective. Ultimately, the execs said their organization’s involvement in social media is “inevitable,” but they know it’s not a silver bullet that will solve all their problems. Instead, they see it as one more weapon in their arsenal for fundraising, client engagement, community-building and operations.

More than ‘cool.’ Everybody gets excited about the ‘cool factor’ inherent in social media, and about the impact it can have on an organization’s reputation (especially with younger audiences). While our client’s execs are excited by the ‘cool factor,’ they refuse to let that distract them from more meaningful considerations, such as whether social media is the best way to increase engagement, impact and effectiveness.

Points of concern, not roadblocks. As a human service nonprofit, our client must consider issues of privacy that can hinder communications efforts. While the execs recognized those challenges, they refuse to let them stifle social media efforts. Instead, they simply said, “We’ll have to resolve those issues.”

Personal investment. One of our key recommendations is that this organization spend the next six months in a “listening” phase, seeing what their peers are doing, paying attention to how their audiences use social media, and so forth. The execs agreed, but they also went one step further: Each of them pledged to plunge into social media individually – setting up Facebook pages, opening Twitter accounts, etc. – so they could get a firsthand feel for the new landscape.

Leading is like anything else – to be successful, you have to master a number of approaches, keep a number of tools handy and know which approaches and tools are right for each situation. Often, our client is a charge-ahead-with-new-ideas organization; other times, it has been more cautious, more studious and more resistant to following the herd.

We’re confident that, when it identifies the right approach and fully enters the world of social media, our client, once again, will be a leader.

The theme for 2010: Training for Tomorrow

In Business Class, New Year, uhm on January 10, 2010 at 8:46 pm

It’s only taken me 10 days, but I finally have defined my “theme” for 2010.

Last week, I wrote about a friend’s alternative to New Year’s resolutions: the creation of a “theme” for the new year. Since then, some of you have shared themes you might use; I, however, had not yet conceived mine.

It’s not that I didn’t have an idea; on the contrary, I had a pretty good “sketch” of my theme in my head. What I didn’t know was how to describe it concisely – in a way that would allow me to conjure it up easily when I need immediate inspiration but in a way that, at the same time, could fuel the pursuit of a longer-term purpose.

That’s how I landed on the theme, “Training for Tomorrow” – and how I landed on a process that I think a lot of individuals and organizations could use to guide a year, project, program or initiative.

I admit that “Training for Tomorrow” is not particularly earth-shattering, but “earth-shattering” isn’t the point. The point is to remind me what I hope to achieve this year. And what I hope to achieve is continual growth – not growth for growth’s sake, mind you, but growth that will position me to do more of the things I want to do.

For example, I would like to write more for publication. As a former journalist and freelance writer, I enjoy writing and getting published, but I’ve not had time to focus on that lately. In order to get back in the game, though, I need a collection of “clips” that I can use to “market” myself. So I must investigate, pursue and cultivate writing opportunities – this blog is part of that effort – and make sure that my writing is in a place and form that editors can see easily.  

I also enjoy teaching and speaking in public. In order to do that, I need to gain credibility as an “expert.” In part, blogging and writing for publication will help me do that; thus, one goal becomes the means to another.

Other desires will have similar goals and processes attached to them.

Process is important for me. My mind works best when I break things into steps or bullet points. So, I have broken my “training” process into a series of steps. (For the record, I did not seek alliteration when I started this; it just sort of happened.) Following are those steps.

  • Prayer. I am a Christian. As such, I am called to preface and surround everything I do with prayer. I don’t always succeed with this and, when I do, I don’t always see a cause-and-effect relationship between prayer and outcome. But I do believe in prayer, so I’d be a fool and a hypocrite if I didn’t make that my first point.
  • Preparation. For much of my life, my desire to “be” one thing or another often has been insufficiently supported by a willingness to do the work required to become that thing. I’ve learned, though, that preparation is essential. For a tangible example, I look to my September participation in a 150-mile bike ride. I could not have done that ride without many shorter rides in the months leading up to it – from May to September, I averaged roughly 100 miles a week. Without that preparation, the 150-miler would have been impossible.
  • Positioning. I’ve often told my son, “If you want something, you have to put yourself in a position to get it.” My simplest analogy is that you can’t drive in the left-hand lane on the interstate if you plan to take the next right-hand exit. Another analogy comes from basketball, where you are taught to “get position” in order to get a rebound – the process of rebounding has a lot less to do with height or leaping ability than it does with establishing position. I have ot “position myself” to reach my goals.
  • Pace. Another lesson learned from cycling: If I try to keep up with the fastest riders, I won’t make it to where I want to go.  If I lag with the slow riders, I’ll not get there when I want to. To get where I want to go when I want to get there, I have to ride my pace. If I decided to speed up or slow down, I must do so with a purpose and with the understanding of what benefits or pain (risks and rewards) I’ll have to accept as a result.
  • Persistence. This is simple but important. On the bike, I know I’ve got to push myself up a hill even if my legs and lungs are screaming, “Quit!” And if I can’t get up that hill this time, I’ll come back and do it again, and again, and again until I get to the top. And each time, I’ll get a little stronger

Of course, all of this begs the question, “What am I training for?” A lot of things – but the list is not important right now. What’s important now is that, each time I set a goal, I challenge myself to “train” for that goal. Because if I’m not willing to “train,” then I’m not really serious about the goal.

Happy 2010.

An Epiphany epiphany for us all

In Amateur Theology, Business Class, Oh! The humanities! on January 8, 2010 at 11:17 am

This week, Christian churches celebrate Epiphany, a tribute to the visit of the Magi to the Christ child. Or, at least, a lot of churches do. Many of them simply lump this observation into Christmas. As a result, many Christians have little or no idea what Epiphany’s all about.

In a way, that’s just as well, since there’s so much wrong with what most Christians think they know about the Magi. On the other hand, it’s unfortunate because there’s a lot we all – Christians, businesspeople, organizations – can learn from the experience of the Magi.

So … what’s wrong with what we know? We can sum up much of that in the standard, condensed version of the Magi story: Three kings from the East followed a star to arrive at the stable just in time for the birth of Jesus.

To start our examination of that story, let’s consider what we know is right in that version. First, Jesus was born. Second … well, uhm … there is no ‘second’.

“Wait a minute,” you say. “That’s got to be right. It’s all right there in the Nativity scene on top of the entertainment center! Three guys with crowns, kneeling alongside shepherds, cows and sheep, clearly brought to the scene by the Christmas tree light affixed to the back of the ‘stable’.”

Let’s talk about what’s wrong with that version.

  • “Three” – We have no idea how many Magi visited Christ; could have been three, could have been 300. This number seems to have come from the three gifts mentioned in the Bible. (“Wait! We know the Wise Guys’ names!” you say. “Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar!” No. Those names emerged from popular versions of the story many, many years after the Gospels were written.)
  • “Kings” – Nope. They were “magi,” aka teachers, astronomers, astrologers, “wise men” or even priests (but definitely not Hebrew priests, because much of the importance of Epiphany is that it represents the introduction of Christ to Gentiles).
  • “from the East” – OK, they did come from the East, but not the Far East, as is sometimes suggested (nor were they Benetton-like multi-cultural, as many politically correct Nativity scenes might suggest). They seem to have come from nearby Persia, or modern-day Iran.
  • “Followed a Star” – Again, this seems basically correct, although we don’t know that it was literally a star or some other God-rendered celestial light that led the Magi on their journey.
  • “to arrive at the stable” – There is nothing in the Gospels that puts the Magi at the stable. In fact, the Bible reports that they first traveled to Jerusalem to visit King Herod, and also describes their meeting with Jesus as occurring in a house.
  • “just in time for the birth of Jesus.” – Wrong again. The Magi seem to have made their way to Jesus months after he was born (scholars seem to typically say the visit occurred somewhere between six and 18 months after the birth) … which, if nothing else, explains why, after his visit with the Magi, Herod ordered the murder of all children under the age of 2.

Now, I offer all of that not because I want to play “I’m smarter than you.” (In fact, I bet plenty of people can find problems with my version.) That’s not the point at all. Frankly, I don’t believe those details are all that important to either the typical believer or non-believer.

My point is to force us all to see the story in a new light – to think about what these Magi did: They left comfortable homes to travel a long distance, chasing an intangible vision in the belief that it would lead to something life-changing. While that’s a gross simplification, it offers us a model for our own lives: Seek a world-changing vision, pursue it through all hardship, and hold firmly to your faith in its importance.

As much as I find that idea inspiring, I also find guidance in a post-mortem to this story, one that we don’t find in the Bible, but one that seems perfectly plausible and wonderfully informative.

T.S. Eliot describes it in his poem “The Journey of the Magi.” After a brief overview of the Magi’s journey and discovery, Eliot talks about the aftermath: “We returned to our places, these Kingdoms/But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,/ with an alien people clutching their gods.”

To put that interpretation into a historical context, these Magi traveled from cities where the people (and probably they) worshipped a number of gods in a mish-mash polytheism common at the time. In the course of their journey, they discovered a new faith, a monotheism that one day would be known across the globe as Christianity. And so, when they returned to their homes, their status as “Christians” isolated them from the people they, not so long ago, counted as their own.

Have you ever felt that way? Like you’ve discovered a new way, a different perspective, a changed world, and yet you must live everyday in a place that remains locked in the status quo? Like you’ve been through a profound experience but have no one around you who can appreciate that experience or grasp its meaning? (Personally, I think Christians encounter this almost daily as they attempt to live out Christ-like lives in the world beyond their church walls. Try casually using the phrase, “Well, I always try to make our world a little more like the Kingdom of God” in a workplace conversation and watch the room slowly empty.)

In Eliot’s poem, the Magi recognize that what they discovered is The Truth, but they embrace that truth with regret. They are isolated. They had to let go of foundational beliefs and accept something foreign. They had to shed the ease of an old life to live in the discomfort of a changed one.

I hope that, with time, the Magi found joy and peace in their new world – that The Truth was more than ample reward for their pain and discomfort. I think we all would hope that, because we want to believe we also will be rewarded when we pledge ourselves to an absurd vision, when we chase after something no one else sees, and when we choose to live in a changed world.

Because, let’s face it: Without that kind of hope, we’ll likely ignore any “stars” that promise to guide us to The Truth.